Sunshine Coast travel guide

Behind the spectacular beaches of the Sunshine Coast ancient rain forests where dinosaurs once roamed await you.

Once a home to dinosaurs: the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve
I’m walking through a rainforest where the world’s last generation of dinosaurs once roamed. And it’s spooky. Not because of the fossilised footprints of flesh-eating monsters nearby, but because an unseen baby is grizzling in the undergrowth.
There’s not a pram or a parent in sight and when another distressed-sounding baby begins to cry on the other side of the track ... and then another just behind me, I spin around in alarm. But there are no babies, just a man, dressed in khaki clothes and stout boots, binoculars in hand, walking towards me. He’s obviously a "twitcher", who on seeing my face, bursts out laughing.
"They sound like tormented souls and yet they’re surprisingly small and unimpressive," he says with a chuckle. "They’re catbirds … to some people they sound like cats, to others, babies crying in the forest." And then, he mimics one perfectly.
Now the grizzling baby mystery is cleared up, I begin to enjoy being in the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, 55 hectares of sub-tropical rainforest that some ecologists call the most important rainforest remnant in Australia.
The Richmond birdwing butterfly is a threatened species that thrives in the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve. Photo by Ray Seddon.
The park is five kilometres east of Maleny, on the Blackall Ranges, a short drive from the Maleny’s sister towns of Mountville and Mapleton, and is home to an extraordinary range of wildlife. There are pythons, bearded dragons, pademelons (miniature wallabies), echidnas, bandicoots and goannas as long as your leg. With many other mammal and bird species, they all live in peace surrounded by 500-year-old strangler figs, rose gums, red cedars, blackbean trees and wonga vines as thick as your thigh.
It’s a lost world – the perfect location for another Indiana Jones movie - and to enter this incredible time capsule, you only have to part with a gold coin donation. The view of the Glasshouse Mountains from the car park is the best you’ll find anywhere and it’s free.
Visit: The Mary Cairncross Scene Reserve, (07) 5429 6122, 148 Mountain View Road, Maleny, open daily 9am – 5pm.
*Home away from home: Spicers Clovelly, Montville. Photo, courtesy of Spicers.
Home away from home: Spicers Clovelly, Montville. Photo, courtesy of Spicers.
There's no doubt about it, Spicers Clovelly is the closest I've ever felt to being at home in a hotel. It may be a little smarter and better finished than my humble cottage, but it's totally reassuring. As soon as you as you enter the lobby, a huge sofa tempts you to fall into its linen-covered softness.
The staff are so obliging, it's a joy talking to them. And then, there's its fabulous location. Hidden in the lush hinterland of the Blackall Range, this 10-suite retreat is surrounded by a glorious six-hectare estate of manicured lawns, jacaranda trees, grand old figs and groves of magnolias.
Built and refurbished in the French Provincial style, the homestead-feel retreat is a 90-minute drive from Brisbane, 30 minutes from the beaches of Noosa and just down the road from the historic towns of Maleny and Montville.
Much talked about among the nation’s foodies, the retreat’s Long Apron restaurant is justly famous (see Gourmet Mountain Meals, below).
Favoured by many guests are the six Estate Suites, each decorated in soothing neutral tones and comfortably furnished with Provincial-style furniture and waxed oak timber features, a Carrara marble bathroom, well-equipped kitchen and spacious outdoor terrace, offering sweeping country views.
Explore the verdant landscape with a walk to the estate's waterfall or look-out over Lake Barron or spend time relaxing by the swimming pool or in the beautiful library with its polished wood shelving, French windows and timber floors – a retreat within a retreat.
Spicers Clovelly, (07) 5452 1111, 38-68 Balmoral Road, Montville. To book: 1300 252 380.
Poet's Cafe - a taste of France in Montville.Photo by Mike Dolan.
The Parisian-style Poet’s Café could be in Montmartre … well, almost. It certainly wouldn’t look out of place in the French Quarter of Las Vegas. There’s even a man wearing a maroon beret leaning on a faux 19th century street lamp … and he’s speaking French on his smart phone. The coffee is "parfait"; the patisserie is "comme ci, comme ça".
Across the road, there’s a German clockmaker’s shop, where the clocks are chiming. Next to the nut market, there’s a massive faux waterwheel gliding around without a drop of water - why it’s attached to an opal shop is a mystery. Reassuringly, the Scottish and Irish souvenir shop has tartan signage and the Bavarian chalets are timber-clad with a troop of hikers waiting patiently outside for stragglers. From houses with mock Tudor trappings to Hansel and Gretel cottages that sell everything from cuckoo clocks, hand-blown glass, jewellery, rainbow scarves, handmade chocolates to "Egyptian readings", Montville is a charmingly quirky theme park on a mission to sell. And it beats the look of the average Australian mega-mall any day.
Visit: Montville http://www.montvilleguide.com.au/, half way between Maleny and Mapleton on route 23.
A rock pool in the upper section of Kondalilla Falls. Photo by Mike Dolan.
A five-minute drive from Montville is a quintessential Australian bush walk to Kondalilla Falls that drop 90 metres in a veil of white water from Skene Creek into the abyss where the sun never shines. That’s almost 30 metres more than the height of Sydney Opera House. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get a good picture at the top. Unless, of course, you’re foolish enough to climb over the safety barrier and edge towards the precipice as a teenager did during my visit. I could hear his friends saying, "this is last picture he took … pretty ordinary, isn’t it?"
If you go on the 4.8km Falls Circuit Walk, you can snap a better picture from the safety of an observation area. Okay, it’s a bit of an effort, but thousands of tourists of all ages do the circuit every year. Just be aware of falling bunya pine cones between January and March. They weigh in at around 10kg, the size of watermelons, and if they hit your head you’re dead.
It’s beautifully cool in the forested gorge and it’s full of birdsong, too. In summer, people swim in one of several pristine waterholes. The park is only 327 hectares, but what it lacks in size it makes up in beauty. Take a picnic or drop into Elements, the teahouse at the top of the falls, which sells a High Tea of sandwiches, cake and scones with cream and jam for $29.95. And the view from its terrace over the valley is sensational. Nearby, on the Obi Obi Road are the 120-metre Mapleton Falls. If you continue on to Obi Obi Creek, where it joins the Mary River, you may see one of the resident platypus.
Visit: Kondalilla National Park, Montville.
The shops of Montville sell everything from cuckoo clocks to opal jewellery.
From the mountain road that connects Maleny, Mountville and Mapleton, the glitzy resorts of maroochydore and mooloolaba look like shining blocks of Lego, where the emerald pastures of the coastal plain meet the sapphire sea. Though it’s only 35 minutes away from the Sunshine Coast’s dazzling beaches, the three mountain towns inhabit a different world. Up on the ranges, it’s cooler, quieter and very green and traffic lights have yet to arrive. People take their time, whether strolling through the markets at Montville, the bookshops of Maleny or from the polished hardwood bar at the Mapleton Tavern onto its glorious timber balcony, where the views to the coast are serendipitous.
One of Amy Kelly's healthy salads at the Living Kitchen. Photo by Carli Fainsinger.
In Maleny, you mustn’t miss the Living Kitchen café, where naturopath and nutritionist Amy Kelly serves up organic, vegan, gluten-free and raw food. If you find this a little disconcerting, don’t lose your sense of humour. Amy serves up incredibly tasty, nutritious meals, including pancake stacks, smoothies, vegetarian burgers and guilt-free cakes. And you’ll learn a thing or two by reading the menu.
The Salsa Verde (above) is an example of the wonderful freshness of Amy's meals. Her Stacks are made from buckwheat and golden flaxseed pancakes, filled with bananas and fresh fruit, creamy macadamia ricotta and drizzled with maple syrup ($15.95). As for the guilt-free cakes, the Lemon and Blueberry Cheesecake has no sugar, milk or eggs; nor do the chocolate and beetroot fudge cake or the Chocolate Caramel Torte. How they can taste so good is Amy’s secret, but she’s prepared to give a little away.
The ingredients of the Lemon and Blueberry Cheesecake include fresh coconut flesh, lemon, blueberries, macadamias with a base of buckwheat, dates and walnuts. If you want to sample Amy’s guilt-free cakes and desserts, visit early or pre-order, as she sells out daily.
Her savoury dishes and smoothies are just as good and all the vegetables and fruit she uses are grown within a 10-kilometre radius.
Stenciled on the café wall is a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “Animals are my friends and I don’t eat my friends.” You don’t have to be a vegetarian to eat at Amy’s café, but you wont’ find even a whiff of any animal product in-house.
Visit: Living Kitchen café, at 1/25 Maple St, Maleny.
Maleny Botanic Gardens looking to the Glasshouse Mountains. Photo by Stuart Garnett.
Building a Botanic Gardens from scratch is work for giants. And yet this is exactly what founder-owner of the Maleny Botanic Gardens, Frank Shipp, is doing on a plot of land 1km by ½km on the side Blackall Range, overlooking the Glasshouse Mountains.
Since 2009, Frank and his team have moved and repositioned 100,000s of tonnes of rock and in the process have created 16 large ponds, several the size of small lakes, 20 waterfalls, numerous streams and gazebos and a 1000sq m aviary.
To date, there’s an oriental garden with reclining Buddha, an amphitheatre with twin waterfalls, a Monet garden with duck-egg blue bridge, lily pond, and irises, numerous lawns, hectares of flowerbeds and a fairy glen for children. All in all, it’s the perfect place to have a family picnic, as bringing your own picnic is encouraged.
Frank also plans to create a glowworm cave and a butterfly house and link the middle garden to a strip of rainforest below. "It’s an ongoing project that will never end," says Frank. "I’ve never done things on a small scale."
If you’re not frightened of birds, enter the aviary and get close to South American macaws, numerous other friendly parrots and 300 other birds, many of which will happily land on your shoulder if given the signal.
Visit: Maleny Botanic Gardens, (07) 5408 4110, 233 Maleny-Stanley Road, corner of Mountain View Road, Maleny. Adult: $16. Concession: $13.
Flame Hill Vineyard and Restaurant, Mountville. Photo by Mike Dolan.
It takes ingenuity and courage to plant a vineyard on the Blackall Range, but that’s exactly what Tony Thompson has done on his cattle property on a bluff overlooking the coastal plain. “Along with the South Burnett region, it’s one of the most northerly places you can create a successful vineyard,” says Tony, who produces verdelho and shiraz at his Flame Hill vineyard, and "softer whites on another vineyard at Lyra", on the northern end of New England Tablelands.
At Flame Hill, Tony has built a swish cellar door restaurant with a wrap-around terrace that takes in the incredible view towards the coast.
"We’re not into making blockbusters. We make wine for food and create our menus around our wine," says Tony.
In the kitchen, Adam Lugg creates inspiring dishes. His entrée of Quail Stuffed with Mushrooms on Truffle Risotto, served with Quail Consommé and Crispy Pancetta ($20) was superb. And the Pan-fried Snapper with Salt Cod, Potato and Sorrel Branade, Fraser Coast Spanner Crab Tian ($40) was equally good. Lugg’s Charcuterie Plates for two ($58) are incredibly popular. Tony’s Verdelho ($23.50) is dry with just a little more fruit than a Fino sherry. His shiraz (2010, $30) has more spice than pepper. Flame Hill has an inspiring location and is the perfect place to take in the view over lunch.
Visit: Flame Hill Vineyard, (07) 5478 5920, Western Avenue, Mountville.
Reserve Restaurant, Maleny.
Reserve Restaurant, (07) 5435 2288, 840 Landsborough-Maleny Road, Maleny. Housed in a spectacularly pink heritage Queenslander, this is a favourite with gourmands from as far a Noosa and Mooloolaba. It does a delightful Indulgence Menu for $169 a couple and the Reserve Degustation for $99 pr person, which can be ordered with matching wines. On my visit, chef Chad Fedele's stand-out dishes were Trout tartare with apple puree, puffed rice and beetroot; Veal with tuna aoli, caperberries and white anchovie, and my favourite, Venison with pumpkin puree, pickled onion, squash and sage. The owner, Stephen Heffernan is also the sommelier and the inspiration behind this restaurant's seven-year run.
The Long Apron, Spicers Clovelly, (07) 5452 1111, 38-68 Balmoral Road, Montville. Much talked about among the nation’s foodies, Spicers Clovelly's multi-award-winning Long Apron restaurant was recently awarded a star in the 2014 Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide, and has been led by chef Cameron Matthews from 94th to 79th in The Top 100 restaurants in Australia. Cameron's meals are all memorable, whether you choose the two-course for $75, the three-course for $85 or the glorious five-course degustation for $105. The Mooloolaba spanner crab, cottage cheese, lemon puree and fresh peas was followed by a beautifully balanced Hervey Bay Scallops, fermented cabbage, green apple and bay leaf oil, and a wonderful Roast Duck, beetroot, cherries, cocoa and fennel. You won't be disappointed with the food; it's as good as any in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.
Flame Hill Vineyard and Restaurant, (07) 5478 5920, Western Avenue, Mountville.
See Wine Pioneer, above.

read more from